The Difficult Transition to the “New” Caring Fatherhood: An Examination of Paternity Leave

Social Sciences in China, 2020

Vol. 41, No. 1, 2020


The Difficult Transition to the New Caring Fatherhood: An Examination of Paternity Leave



Wang Xiangxian


Paternity leave, a social policy first implemented in China some twenty years ago, has a direct bearing on fatherhood. It marks a preliminary attempt to promote the transition from fathers lack of involvement to engagement founded on cultural recognition and economic and political redistribution. The intergenerational continuity of the absent father, the reproduction of this absence through the extended family, the limited fatherhood created by employers through a consensus about human feelings, and the way local governments are taking the lead in paternity leave, ahead of the central government, jointly build the mainstream model of the absent father. Fathers should indeed provide day-to-day care for their children, but only as helpers; this means that short-term paternity leave is an appropriate way for new fathers to take on their responsibilities. This notion, however, not only fails to meet the new needs, responsibilities and rights of some fathers who wish to actively care for and bond with their children, but also further consolidates the gender division of labor (in which men are innately breadwinners and women homemakers), a division that is inextricably linked with peoples interests, ethics and emotions in contemporary China. The low fertility in todays world calls for a significant change in the gender division of labor. Actively embracing a caring role is not only a work right and an emotional right for fathers, but also heralds emerging civil rights and marks a new development in social emotions. In this sense, the transition to care-giving fathers should not be that difficult.


Keywords: paternity leave, fatherhood, childbirth, gender division of labor